In some sports, there is constant turnover at the top as, for the most part, different teams compete for the title each season. The salary cap (see the NFL), the nature of the sport (see the NHL), and plain old random chance (see Major League Baseball) make sustained success difficult. That is not the case in the NBA where, over and over again, we see the same familiar names. The Warriors and Cavaliers have met in three straight finals, and LeBron Finals has been to seven consecutive. It doesn’t stop there; even the top contenders (San Antonio, Toronto) have stayed somewhat static. As we take one final look at preseason NBA futures, a lot of the names are the same and, for bettors, the question boils down to: can anyone dethrone the Warriors, or are we destined for another Golden Stave-over-Cleveland result in 2018?
How to Wager on NBA Futures
Golden State: 10/19
It is barely worth mentioning why the Warriors are the heavy chalk. They start four potential Hall of Famers, have gone 207-39 over the last three years, have won two of the last three titles, and it’s legitimately disappointing that they aren’t three-time defending champs. They return all key contributors from last season, and added bench scorer Nick Young and the sharpshooting Omri Casspi in the offseason. Is there value betting on the Warriors at odds this short? They need to have at least a 66-percent shot of cutting down the nets to make their price worth playing. That’s not unreasonable, but is it the best bet available?
This is not the same Cavs team that got dominated by the Warriors in last season’s NBA Finals. They traded Kyrie Irving and added Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade. Thomas won’t be healthy for several months, but should be fine when the money is on the line. So is this Cleveland team improved? That’s hard to know. However, in order to win the title, they need to be drastically better. That doesn’t seem likely. Regardless, if you are betting someone other than the Warriors, you better get a lot more than 5/1.
The Celtics bested the Cavaliers for the best regular-season mark in the Eastern Conference last year, but knew they were nowhere close to as good as Golden State, and maybe not even Cleveland. The Cavs won a lopsided Eastern Conference finals against the C’s, and that led to Boston going big when the offseason rolled around. They retained only four players (Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart) and retooled the rest of the roster, most notably adding Irving, fellow All-Star Gordon Hayward, former Piston Marcus Morris, and BBL (Basketball Bundesliga League – Germany) All Star Daniel Theis. They also traded back from the top overall pick in the draft to select Jaysom Tatum at no. 3.
The Celtics are inarguably more offensively talented than they were last season, but it will take time to gel and the defense could take a step back. At 12/1, they probably present more value than the Cavs, but remember that their path to the title includes getting by both Cleveland and Golden State.
The Reasonable Longshots
San Antonio: 18/1
The Spurs essentially have the same team that went 61-21 last year, the second-best mark in the NBA. They didn’t make the flashy off-season moves as the other top contenders, but keeping a really strong team together is not necessarily a bad thing. Why change for the sake of change? Sure, San Antonio got swept by the Warriors in the playoffs, but you can’t take much from that series, since Kawhi Leonard was essentially out for the entirety and, when he was on the floor briefly in Game 1, the Spurs dominated.
San Antonio wasn’t completely silent in the offseason: newcomer Rudy Gay will play a role and give the Spurs another weapon without demanding anything.
Is there an argument to be made they are the second-best team in the West? Yes. Is there some glimmer of hope that they have what it takes to compete with Golden State? Yes. Can you ask for much more in today’s NBA? Not really.
Oklahoma City: 43/2
The Thunder should have taken out the Warriors in the 2016 playoffs when they still had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But they let a 3-1 series lead slip away and then watched KD join the enemy. Many thought the small-market team was finished when Durant left. However, Westbrook won MVP honors last year, and the Thunder made the playoffs. Now they have Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to ease the burden on their All-NBA point guard. Signing Patrick Patterson was another good move. There is reason for optimism with the Thunder. How much optimism largely depends on whether the team’s new “Big 3” can play nicely together, and just how much the aging Anthony has left in the tank.
The Rockets finished third in the West last year, and lost to San Antonio in the second round of the playoffs. What was clear by the end was that Houston needed to get better on defense, and rely less on James Harden on offense. Enter Chris Paul. Adding the elite point guard will take some pressure off of Harden, and Paul is arguably just as good a defender as outgoing Patrick Beverley. Add in the arrival of P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, and this team has the potential to be much improved versus last season. Although, like the Celtics, they are dealing with a tremendous amount of roster turnover. How well all these new pieces fit together is still a question mark.
The Value Bet
The Warriors are not off the table despite their ridiculously short odds, but that’s not what I’ll be doing. Betting on the Dubs means tying up capital for more than half the year for a small return. Cleveland is not beating the Warriors one out of every five series, not without Kyrie Irving, and while they might be better than the Celtics, the gap is narrowing.
Out West, OKC and Houston made flashy moves, but if someone is going to beat Golden State, the team that was second-best last year and has Gregg Popovich at the helm would be my prediction. A small wager on the Spurs would keep the long regular season entertaining. Just don’t go into a tizzy when Pop starts resting players. It will be the right move in the long run, like basically every move the future Hall of Famer makes.